In search of ponies: Pets natural de-stressors

“My dog saves me a fortune in therapy bills,” a man told me last week.

He went on to explain his pup Genesis has heard enough of his problems to more than earn his keep in the year or more since they adopted him.

And I have to say it’s got to be working, because Genesis’ dad has to be one of the happiest and most consistently pleasant people I’ve ever met, so good job little dude!

My Gilligan serves a similar role. Every evening without fail when he comes in, I hear him tearing through the house on a collision course for yours truly and I know I have about 30 seconds to secure my beverage, laptop or anything else I happen to be holding.

In the minutes that follow, he asks me how my day was and leans against me, just happy to be there.

But Gilligan isn’t my only fury de-stressor.

Whether it’s the cat in the alley behind the office, the birds that coo as they settle in to roost every night in the trees beside my house, or the rabbit in my yard that no longer runs when it sees me — all have a soothing presence, even on the worst of days.

Sometimes I probably take it for granted because I have always had animals around and can’t imagine a life without them, but the reality of it is — no slight intended to mental health professionals of course — animals are among the top therapists in existence.

So for Genesis’ dad, who suggested this as a potential column, I did a little Internet reading and found:

• English researchers documented a significant reduction in minor ailments within a month of introducing a pet into homes that had none.

• An Australian study revealed that patients with pets had lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reducing their risk for a heart attack.

• American research has established that coronary patients who own pets are more likely than those without to be alive one year after a heart attack.

Of course there are dozens and dozens more studies which emphasize the positive impact of pets on trauma, psychiatric, geriatric and other patients.

Everything from dolphins, horses, dogs, cats and more are used in programs designed to help people overcome the things they face. Nursing homes have made accommodations so people can bring their pets and even employers allow them in the workplace, seeing the benefit to both personnel and customers.

Once I had the pleasure of doing a story on a therapy dog that was being used at the local hospital to help cheer up patients.

It so happens the day I went to interview Casper, I was having a very rough day and though I successfully hid it from his handler and managed the interview, Casper wasn’t fooled a bit.

Casper’s owner explained the akita was so very good at his job because he was remarkably intuitive and always knew where he was needed most, even in a crowd of people.

Casper made a believer of me that day, though his owner, thankfully, didn’t seem to notice that the entire time we were talking, he sat beside me with his head across my lap and even when we toured the hospital, he would go off to greet people and get rubs and kisses, then zoom back to me.

The dog made quite an impact on me, so much in fact, I still remember him years later, and I have little doubt mine is just one of the lives he has touched in his work.

So while I listened to Genesis’ dad talking of the wonderful contribution the pooch makes to his life, I had no doubt about its validity.

Now on occasion I have had people question the financial investment that caring for animals takes, from the money for food to medical care to the difficulties involved in taking vacations and so forth.

And I can’t deny, it is a sacrifice of hard earned dollars.

But I prefer to side with Genesis’ dad on this one — trust me when I say for every penny they’ve cost, they’ve saved me a fortune.

Sharna Johnson is a staff writer for Freedom New Mexico. She can be reached at